Wednesday, 21 December 2016

What do you want to be? (When you grow up and now)

I don't know if it's because there are more people discussing this topic nowadays, or if it's just casualty, the thing is that these past days I've read many articles dealing with a bone of contention: feminism. To me, it seems that we're always discussing women's role in our society concerning family, work, nurturance or even physical appearance, but also that we tend to forget something: what about children and their supposed gender roles?


Everybody seems to be very concerned about how they're going to raise their children and their behavior towards girls, or their behavior AS girls. And, unluckily, this sums up to: «you have to respect girls», «do not hit girls», or «you have to be a good girl»,
We all get hungry after doing sport.
«be careful with boys, because they're brutish» -obviously, these kind of messages get sexualized as these children turn into teens-. Well intentioned as this may be, the message is that there are two categories of people: those who are willing to harm you -boys, men-, and those who have to be careful and not give an opportunity to be harmed -girls, women, or likely victims-. This not only sets up the cliché that some people who don't need protection actually do, or that people who'll never hurt us are to be protected from, but also makes the little ones accept these ideas, many times even without having experienced them. That's how we get to grow up believing these «truths» and becoming these clichés.



Well, there's still something that very few people seem to have thought about so far, and I've realized thanks to a twitter discussion a few days ago: what about the products we let children consume? And by products I'm not saying toys, because everybody talks about that; I mean cartoons, series or films as well as video games or books: stories that are already written, related all of them to gender roles and the examples children and teens get from what they watch or read.


To start with, there's the wrong idea out there that, as long as there are people exerting as good examples, never mind if these people are women or men, since the go-getting, brave and intelligent will always take the first step, the initiative, whatever their gender. A little girl can grow up wanting to imitate her grandfather's character and become a highly respected businesswoman. Maybe. But it's important, I say, to start highlighting the role of influential women from the very moment in which little children realize that it's men who do the important stuff, and women who assume the passive roles, becoming this little future businesswoman an exception -boyish; that's how someone will define her at some point in her life. Or tomboyish-. 

In this Twitter conversation I just mentioned, a boy and a girl of about seven were playing, and the boy said: «I'm going to be a musketeer», so the girl considered a little, and said: «alright, I'll be a musketeer too». The boy answered that there were no female musketeers. According to the twitterer, the girl ended up becoming the lamp, the lady in distress, because she was told that she, as a girl, could not be what she wanted. Though, I say, with a bit of education from their parents, they could have realized that it was their own game and they could have applied their own rules! And it's important to let children take example of whoever they want. It's funny how a girl has to wish to be a musketeer, but a boy will never want to be any super heroine: they've got plenty, unlimited super models of behavior to choose from.
Well, if I can't have a musketeer sword, I'll pick up some blunt force weapons!

I'm not going to attack old products, such as the musketeers, as they are reflections of the time they were produced in, but at this point I'm going to underline the importance of how education is dealt with sometimes. If you support equity between genders and you realize your little child's watching some old cartoons or whatever, full of old fashioned topics and ideas, perhaps you should point out that, luckily, girls aren't abducted anymore by evil forces more than boys, or that boys don't need anymore to hold their tears back, and then, provide them with some more modern products in which girls and boys engage in the same adventures and do the same things, all together and good friends.

If you let them grow up seeing this as something normal, your grown up son will apply equal standards when judging different people in his future.

But, even if I'm a teacher, my aim here is not to discuss educational matters, but to address writers (well, readers mainly, but... you'll understand me if I say it's more or less the same). Why am I addressing content creators especially?

In the twitter discussion, they mentioned different series and cartoons we used to watch, such as Sailor Moon, in which you could see different girls as main protagonists doing all sorts of things. This brought to my mind lots of series of books I used to read, such as The Famous Five, by Enid Blyton, The Little Vampire by Angela Sommer-Btodenburg or the TKKG series by Stefan Wolf (oops, pseudonym here!). It also reminded me of Nicholas, by René Goscinny, which I'd like to leave for the end, as I'm going to make my final point with this one.

As you may know, there were girls, and admirable some of them, in most of these series. Starting with The Famous Five, we had two
boys, two girls, and a dog. Out of the two girls, one of them, Ana, responded to the good girl, future housewife canon; she bared her teeth sometimes, but not as frequently as her cousin Georgina, who answered by «George». Happy as I was with the idea of having a girl that surprised me and that I admired, I couldn't help feeling that there was something wrong about her, and now we all know what it is: because she was brave and adventure-seeking, they all said she was like a boy and named her so. She, herself, wouldn't respond to her female name. This could have answered to certain needs as to sexual identity that could go beyond being simply a girl or a boy, but if not, it is so incredibly wrong, to renounce to being a girl in order to be brave! Or the other way round! And, honestly, I don't think Enid Blyton was thinking of supporting trans people when she created George. Not at that time. 


In TKKG, there was just one girl, Gabi, and she was a total lamp, so, nothing to say about her. She was the pretty love interest of the very strong and admirable male protagonist. I loved these books as they dealt with mysteries and adventures, but unfortunately, Gabi's role gets perpetuated from generation to generation, as, it seems, teens of all ages (pre to post) want to be rescued by an incredibly sexy, strong boy (sigh), and new, modern books reflect this desire in some way.

In The Little Vampire we had a sort of change. Certainly, the protagonists were two boys, but there was also Anna, the little vampire's sister, who was the bravest of all. We could argue that she was attached to Anton by a
romantic interest too, but the admirable thing about her was that she not always acted upon this. Of course, we can say that the author used her as a way of solving Anton's problems; the «a wizard solved it» becomes «Anna solved it». The good thing is that she was an independent, deep character, even deeper than Anton or Rüdiger: she was fully aware that Anton didn't want to become a vampire, not even to spend eternity with her, but even so she dealt with it and helped him as much as she could in order to avoid her blood-thirsty relatives biting him (above all her aunt, the worst of all). 

Then, in the 90's, Buffy arrived to TV to change the leading role; or is it just me who sees lots of clichés defeated? Alright, Buffy got certainly help from Angel sometimes, but not always, and we have to admit this: she ended up killing him when he became this freaking psycho who wanted to finish her off, so, no arguments here.



Funny how this actress changed Buffy for Daphne, the sexy lamp in Scooby Doo!

But before this, I had the Nicholas' books. Admirable though the lessons we could learn from this little boy might be, I've just realized something: as the children attended a boys' school, there were no girls at all, and in my books, I eliminated one of the boys and substituted his name for a girl's name. Not mine, but very similar. And in the illustrations I would also draw a girl doing the same things they were doing. I clearly remember one of these drawings, in which the girl is fighting with a wooden sword, just like the others were doing.

I mean: I loved Nicholas' stories, but still, I missed having a girl in the gang. But also, I missed a girl I could admire, a sort of «George», but more... like me, not a girl depicted as a boy. Remember: girls who run fast, jump high, kick hard or sword-fight skillfully are not boys; they're still girls. When I was five or six, I was a very delicate girl, I looked like a doll, and even so I had an ability that my teenage uncle liked to exhibit in front of his friends in order to have a good laugh: I could recite half the alphabet in just one burp (nowadays I can only do it until letter C).

And now it comes when I give creators homework. How about picking up a story and changing one of the male protagonists for a female one? Of course, without changing anything in the story. Imagine that Harry Potter becomes Harriet, this witch who falls in love with Ginny Weasley. Or you could do it with a story of your own, in which you've got many men, but not women. Any funny results? I'd like to find out significant changes you observe, and see if there are any characters so sexist towards women that would turn into a sexist woman. This result would be very interesting, in my opinion. Do you think having a woman where there was a man would change the story?

So, my conclusion is that one way to fight sexism is, among others, to normalize gender roles (in short: to eliminate them): if a girl wants to be a princess it's ok, but give her a name and something that defines her which is not being a princess; if a boy wants to be a knight, let him be a knight who shows his feelings. 

Creators: make materials that show the loneliness of a knight or the bravery of a princess.

Let boys remove the armor helmet and show their tears. Let girls pick up a sword and kill the dragon.

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